I moved my daughter into her dorm this weekend.
It feels like she went straight from the maternity room to her dorm room without pausing. Like there wasn't 18 years in there.
Being divorced only made it worse. Whatever time I might have had with her was reduced by about 75 percent.
I was there for the big things...Recitals, graduations, art shows, and talent shows. I've never missed a birthday or a holiday with her. I spoke to her every day that I wasn't with her.
But there were little things that were stolen from me. It wasn't me who took off her training wheels when the time came. It wasn't me who pulled her first loose tooth. I had to share her first day of school with the monster her mother married...and is now divorcing. I would call her and he would always make it a point to talk loudly in the background, just so I could hear him and he would let me know that my daughter was in HIS house. He would bait me and hope that I'd lose control and go after him. I have the habit of writing her a letter that I include in every birthday card. It usually recaps the years that have passed and talks about the future. The one I wrote her on her ninth birthday, Jeff (Holly's second husband) decided to "edit" and deface. I wanted to kill him. Somehow I managed not to.
Her mom played along. She liked the feeling of rubbing salt in my wounds.
But I stayed and I fought for whatever time I could get and squeezed in a little more by having lunch with her at school or picking her up and taking her to her mom’s just so I could have the time in the car.
Still...I missed about 75 percent of her bedtime prayers. I missed her singing in her room every night. I didn't catch nearly enough lightning bugs or bake nearly enough cookies or color nearly enough funny pictures. I wish I could be Santa just one more time and she would believe it...like when she was little.
The house I bought in Franklin TN had a Jacuzzi tub. I never used it but she liked it when she was little. One time I put a giant scoop of "Mr. Bubble" in it and she was literally lost in the suds. She had a blast. That's how it was for the first ten years. Once a week and every other weekend we had an adventure of some sort. We had fun and we laughed and we could forget that our little family was broken.
But I see her now and I see the adult version of what was a happy little girl. She trusts no one. She has a chip on her shoulder about men, because she saw how her mom's new husband treated her, and she didn't have a chance to see me treating someone well because I remained single. She has a love for Jesus but a distrust for church because she saw me be essentially abandoned while my life had exploded. Not until I found a different church did she see people caring, as a body of believers, and it jaded her. She knows how individuals helped and cared, but she loved church as much as I do and she felt the disappointment.
She feels like she skipped childhood after age 10. She feels like she was rushed into adulthood because her home life demanded it. I have to agree. Her mom's house wasn't a safe haven, and after 2008, I had no house at all.
She's in the dorm now. She has two roommates and a floor full of young women of varying ages and backgrounds. I am excited for her. I am praying daily that her room mates and RA's and her floor sisters are all exactly who God has picked out to help heal the wounds my little girl carries.
I shudder to think of what might invade that heart if she was in a state school right now. I'm thankful that, while Liberty is growing academically and physically at a tremendous rate, our president, Jerry Falwell has managed to keep our school Christ centered. I'm thankful God brought it about that I can work there and she can go there because the two are financially inseparable right now.
But this hole in me is huge and today it's palpable. 18 years is a blink even if you aren't divorced, or homeless, or both. It's a blink to healthy families where things go well.
For me it was even faster than that. She is my only immediate family. She is the chance I got to right the wrongs from my own childhood, and be a better parent than I had. She is my second chance at seeing dreams come true. She reminds me of my grandmother when she sings. She is loving, tender, gentle, fiery, stubborn, and very broken.
And today she lives in a dorm on Liberty Mountain. And I'm sitting here wondering how it happened so quickly, and wondering if I did it right enough. We talked this weekend about the past and the future. Where I succeeded and where I failed. She told me that no matter what...she always knew I loved her. Because I told her and because I showed her.
I hope and pray that is enough.